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  • Friday, May 27, 2005


    Responsibility for Slavery

    It is common for (white) people in the US to deny any ancestral responsibility for slavery. "My family never owned slaves. No one in my family would have supported slavery. Why can't black people just get over it? The Civil War ended 140 years ago!"

    Unfortunately, I've never had the ability to deny my family's active participation in the institution and practice of slavery. They were undoubtedly slaveowners. Although the details aren't too well known to me, there are a few certainties. Part of one side of my family has lived in New Orleans and Louisiana for a long time. They also owned and operated a plantation on the Mississippi River prior to the Civil War. While this is circumstantial evidence, there's never been any doubt in my mind that my ancestors were slaveowners. Hell, I can see the modern expression of racism writ plain in parts of my current biofam.

    So do I work super hard to fight racism because of this family legacy? Am I a fierce avenger? No. Probably like many people, I try to do my best in my day-to-day life to combat my own racism. I try to say something when I see it expressed by other people but more often I am silent, allowing a slur to pass uncommented upon, unquestioned. I should be braver, be more willing to speak out. And so here's another statement of white guilt, of "what can I do? I'm just one person."

    Yet there are moments when I surprise myself by being clearer, firmer, more assertive in a situation. I don't know where it comes from, this upswelling of clear justice. Then I think it's the result of those small moments of self reflection about racist attitudes in myself, that I am somehow transforming myself. Then I think maybe I'm not just wallowing in guilt, maybe I am changing, becoming better able to see and act in the face of blatant racism. It's a nice thought. I hope it's true.

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